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New Redistricting Commission Maps Appear To Retain GOP Supermajority

Andy Chow
Statehouse News Bureau

The Ohio Redistricting Commission has adopted an official proposal for the new state House and Senate district maps. Now leaders will go to different parts of the state to hear public comment on the maps that were drawn by the Republican caucuses. But many advocates say they believe the process has been unfair.

The Republican caucuses in the House and Senate unveiled their proposal for new district lines for the 99 House seats and 33 Senate seats.

Leaders of those two caucuses, House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, say they did not analyze how those districts broke down proportional to statewide election results, where the state has voted about 54% Republican and 46% Democrat. 

The voter approved constitutional change to the state legislative redistricting process said the maps should correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio based on the last ten years of general election results.

Cupp says that information will come soon.

"Those will be calculated obviously as we go forward with a hearing process."

Chow: "How did you draw without knowing that?"

"The instructions were to draw a map that complied with the constitution."

An early analysis by a national expert suggested the maps will tip heavily toward Republican supermajorities continuing in the Ohio House and Senate, with as many as 67 of 99 House districts and 25 of 33 Senate districts likely to lean to the GOP.

Democratic Senator Vernon Sykes, co-chair on the commission, isn't buying that the Republicans drew their maps without knowing the partisan breakdown. 

"You know, I don't blame a speaker of the House or a President of the center for using the rules the best they can to craft the districts to help their caucus. I don't blame them. But to say that they don't even know what the distribution is. To present a map before this Commission and say they're unaware of what it is and didn't consider it at all. I think it's disingenuous."

Advocates for non-gerrymandered maps were at the redistricting commission meeting, with many expressing their discontent with the commission process. The public didn't see the Republican-made maps until the morning of the meeting, and the commission accepted the map just a few hours later. 

Some of those who offered comments compared to the redistricting process ten years ago when maps were drawn behind closed doors in a Columbus hotel room. Melissa Sull of Gahanna and Andrea Yagoda of Columbus said the reforms passed by voters in 2015 were supposed to bring more accountability and transparency to the process. 

Sull: "I suppose the cheating out in the open is a slight improvement over the secretive cheating used in 2011 to create our current district maps.”

Yagoda: "You are not going to silence me for the next 10 years. I have had enough. Ohioans have had enough. We did not vote for this. We all worked hoping that you would act in good faith and do what the voters want you to do. This is not what we voted for."

Republican Senate President Matt Huffman said the mapmakers on his staff were instructed to not take racial and demographics data into consideration.

"It's illegal to use race in drawing districts. That's a violation of federal law. Now, there's a mention of the Voting Rights Act. If the government sees that there's a compelling state interest based on evidence presented to do that. But if we said, use race and drafting these districts, the federal government's going to say, you can't do that."

"You can actually look at race as a criteria. It just cannot be the only criteria."

That's Deidra Reese with the Ohio Unity Coaltion. She said she was disgusted to hear racial data wasn't taken into account.

"I felt very invisible. I felt unheard. I felt like, like I don't even count whatsoever. And that's what this is all about. We counted people in the census. We're supposed to have representation. You want to make certain that people have the ability to influence who is going to actually represent them. That's what it's all about.

The Ohio Redistricting Commission will now hold three public hearings around the state to hear more comment on the Republican-made maps that have been adopted. Those meetings will be in Dayton, Cleveland, and Columbus, starting on Sunday.

The commission needs approval by the two Democratic members in order to have maps that last ten years. It can pass maps without Democratic support, but they would have to reconvene in four years to draw maps again.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.
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